Where to even start with this one. When Disney acquired LucasFilm and announced they were going to make more Star Wars films, people were admittedly a bit worried. But The Force Awakens came along and despite some familiarities, is generally praised for its great characters and classic feel. The spin-off film Rogue One released a year later and surprised audiences by being the first film not to deal with the Skywalker drama and in this writer’s opinion, that film is ageing rather well. Then a year after that, Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi hit the big screen. And holy moly. Things got heated and fast. Critics praised the film, citing the direction and bold, unexpected writing while the fanbase ended up fracturing. Look at any Star Wars comment section and one year later, the film is still being hated upon. Does it deserve the hate? Let’s take a deep dive into how The Last Jedi stands, one year later.
The film, which you can stream here if you need a refresher, picks up right where The Force Awakens ended, the first film in the saga to not time jump ahead. It’s a little jarring at first, but the film immediately dives into an intense battle scene. If you forgot, in the previous film the First Order found out the location of the Resistance’s base and Episode VIII opens with the attack on said base. And let’s just say that things don’t go so smoothly for the heroes. Oscar Issac’s Poe Dameron, the hotshot that he is, believes he can take on the fleet singlehandedly and ends up being responsible for the deaths of many people in the Resistance. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the First Order, led by Supreme Leader Snoke and his massive Star Destroyer, is able to track the Resistance through hyperspace. Low on fuel, they are picked off one by one through space.
Meanwhile, Rey has found Luke Skywalker on a remote planet but is shocked to discover that the legendary Jedi Master is a grouchy hermit who wishes to live in exile so he can die alone. He refuses to join Rey in returning to the Resistance to see his sister and the revelation is not only a blow to Rey, but to the audience. How can someone so legendary and inspiring be like this? Turns out, he feels immense guilt in regards to the turn of Ben Solo to the dark side. Ripped apart by the deaths of his students and for failing his sister and his best friend, he picked up and put himself in self-imposed exile as punishment and cut himself off from the Force. Ben Solo is, of course, Kylo Ren, the leader of the First Order’s army and an agent of the Dark Side. But he has an unusual connection with Rey as the two end up talking through the Force and connecting with each other as she begins to learn about Luke and Kylo’s history via the “three truths”.
The final layer to the cake is the story involving former stormtrooper Finn, who must join newcomer Rose Tico on a quest to the casino city Canto Bight in order to find a Master Code Breaker to stop the First Order from tracking the Resistance through space. Instead, they find DJ, a slicer (hacker) who seems a bit shady but is willing to help for credits. Together, these three stories make up the divisive Last Jedi. Now, I’m not going to talk about what other people liked and didn’t like so if this article surprises you or doesn’t agree with your criticisms of the film, you must accept that these are my opinions and there is no “right or wrong” when it comes to this.
Unlike Rogue One, I don’t think The Last Jedi is ageing quite as well. But that’s not to say I think it’s a bad movie. I remember when the credits began to roll the first time I saw it, I didn’t know what to feel. First thing I said was “I have to process this”. And I’m a die-hard Star Wars fan who lives at the altar of George Lucas, so not knowing what to say felt odd, especially after enjoying the previous two entries. I had to really think and process what I saw in this film. Some of it is really great while some stuff is, well, not so much. But I seem to like a lot of stuff that many fans seemed to hate, so it was an interesting contrast.
One of the biggest points of contention for the film was how Johnson handled Luke. Even Mark Hamill himself was very candid about his uncertainty to the direction Luke would take. If you own a copy of the Blu-ray, be sure to check out the documentary included called The Director and the Jedi. Where Luke’s attitude was seen as a negative for many, that storyline is one of the shining bright points for me. Considering everything Johnson did with Luke, the only thing I really hated was what he did when he was given his sabre back. I still cringe at the memory. But that aside, Mark Hamill gives the performance of his career in this film, showcasing a man who used to be a beacon of hope fall so far and now lives without it. Considering he was “The New Hope”, to see him struggling makes him even more relatable. Yeah, Luke has problems, we all do. Should he have been helping the Resistance? Probably yes, but life broke him. He’s angry and even a little suicidal. He’s also very critical of the Jedi Order, something I think the generation who grew up on the prequel films are as well as those films showcased a lot of problems with the Jedi philosophy, or hubris as Luke cites. Where the Jedi of old were fighting so hard to erase darkness, Luke believes that you need a balance. You can’t have light without darkness and vice-versa. The two must coexist because it’s the natural state of the world and it’s a radically different ideology than what we saw in the prequels.
Luke explains all of this to Rey, the orphaned scavenger from Jakku who is mysteriously strong with the Force and has come to recruit Luke back into the fight. When that doesn’t work, she convinces him to train her a bit in the ways of the Force in order to focus her abilities which will help her confront Kylo Ren, a character she believes she can turn to the Light and thus, become a great ally to the cause. She’s so determined of this thanks to a vision she saw that she is blinded by any other truths. Of course, it’s revealed that Snoke was manipulating her so despite being so passionate about her beliefs, they were all lies. Tough pill to swallow. Snoke used the Force to allow Rey and Kylo Ren to communicate with each other. Despite hating him in the last film, Rey ends up connecting with Kylo, seeing the goodness in him and that he’s simply a tool in Snoke’s arsenal. She wishes to free him from the constraints of the Dark Side but begins to doubt the virtue of Luke and his stories upon learning that Luke tried to murder Ben Solo. These scenes, involving Luke, Rey and Kylo Ren are the highlight of the film. If the movie was just that story, we’d have an excellent film. Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver and Hamill give knockout performances and are the most realized characters in the film.
Which means that other characters get seriously sidelined or underdeveloped. While Poe Dameron going from reckless hot shot to the natural leader is a good arc, it happens way to fast and it’s only made possible due to unusual script decisions, mainly that Vice Admiral Holdo was withholding information from Poe once she took command of the fleet after Leia was put out of commision. She could’ve easily told Poe what the plan was, but didn’t and saw that Poe was getting aggravated. Sure, Holdo doesn’t have to tell him anything, she’s the Vice Admiral, and Poe recently got demoted, but Holdo could have brought Poe into her confidence and the whole mutiny thing wouldn’t have happened. And Poe did commit mutiny and nothing happened with that, no one was charged with treason or sedition so the whole mutiny thing feels sort of empty and hollow. But this plot gives us more time with the final, on set filming for Carrie Fisher, and like Hammil, she’s stepped up her acting game, especially compared to the previous entry. It’s a shame she’s sidelined so quickly however and that’s the real crime.
But at least that plotline can be entertaining, despite its shortcomings. The same can’t be said of the Finn plot line. Or more specifically, the detour to Canto Bight, the casino city on Cantonica. I kind of have the impression that Rian Johnson didn’t know quite what to do with Finn, who was one of the most interesting characters in the last film. A former stormtrooper, he defected when he saw the massacre of a village. From there, his goal was to just run and hide but he eventually learned the value of friendship and sticking around. So when it came to The Last Jedi, his first act is to cut and run again so he can find Rey, who could be anywhere, only to get busted by Rose. But the two eventually hatch a plan to stop Snoke’s Star Destroyer and with the help of BB-8, go to pick up the Master Codebreaker in the casino city. It’s here where we get a hammy, forced message about animal cruelty and the trio eventually get busted for a parking violation and get tossed in jail. Well, BB-8 doesn’t. But in jail, they meet “DJ” played by Benicio Del Toro. While I enjoyed the point of the character, which was to drive home the fact that there are villains on both sides of the conflict and thus, you should never trust anyone, his line delivery left something to be desired as it felt very Looney Tunes at times. Despite going through all the trouble of finding a codebreaker and racing through the city in a CGI chase scene on CGI animals that goes on way too long, the plan to stop Snoke’s ship fails and while it’s an interesting twist of fate, it does make the previous scenes feel a bit useless.
Another thing that has suffered over the year was the film’s attempt at humour. While it didn’t work the first time, the jokes feel even more hollow now that the jokes have worn out their welcome. I’m all for humour in films, look at what Infinity War did, after all, and Force Awakens was pretty funny at times, but Johnson, who is known for directing Looper and the greatest episode of Breaking Bad, “Ozymandias”, can’t quite nail the humour down. I hope that on his next trip to a galaxy far, far away he tones it down because I didn’t find them funny the first time and they’ve just gotten in the way at this point.
Like Rogue One before it though, The Last Jedi is one gorgeous movie thanks to cinematography from Steve Yedlin. Sweeping vistas are basically eye candy and the continued use of blending practical effects and on-location filming with CGI proves to be effective. Whether it’s filming in Ireland for the island scenes with Luke, Bolivia for the salt flats that double as Crait or even the brief shots of Dubrovnik that double as Canto Bight make these places feel real. Couple that with the excellent sets housed in Pinewood Studios in London and you have one good looking film. Oh, and future directors and cinematographers, take note. The fight scene between Rey, Kylo and the Praetorian Guards, that’s how you film a fight scene. Wide shots with no choppy edits. It may not have been a traditional lightsabre fight, but it’s one hell of a scene.
John Williams also returns to score the film and in my opinion, the score for this entry is far superior to what he delivered in The Force Awakens. It built upon the themes and motifs established in that film but also created something new and more powerful. Hearing old melodies, like Yoda’s Theme, or having a piano version of Han and Leia’s theme are appropriate for the character beats while the sinister sound of the First Order makes the arrival of Star Destroyers that much more terrifying.
It’s no secret that the film has received a lot of backlash. It currently has a 91% on the aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes but also sports a 45% audience rating. The film seriously divided the fan base, but also made Star Wars a toxic fandom in 2018. Whether you loved or hated the film, there’s no denying that things have gotten ugly this year. Actors, especially the female actors, have received death threats and have since left social media for their involvement in Star Wars and many people have been calling for Kathleen Kennedy’s head, the big boss over at Lucasfilm. Journalists have been chewed apart, threated and insulted for covering the film and a loud (but likely minority) group of far-right fans have taken it upon themselves to boycott the franchise unless it returns to a masculine/straight/white franchise. It saddens me that one film has spawned so much hate. It’s one thing to not like the film, everyone is entitled to that, but to go to such extremes has taken some of the joy out of the stories that come from a galaxy far, far away. But it’s believed that the extreme hate comes from a very small percentage of the fandom, they’re just the most vocal about their dislike so it’ll be interesting to see what Episode IX brings in this regard.
At the same time though, this film has sparked conversation. It’s been a year and we’re STILL talking about it. We’re debating the good, the bad, whether it’s a classic or a failure. How many movies do you know that came out a year ago are still being scrutinized like this? The Jedi surprised a lot of fans and many people did not like it, but even those who hate it can’t help but talk about it, even if it is negative feedback. That’s the power this film has over the fandom. It encourages debate and discourse and in an age where films are watched and then cast aside shortly after they’ve been viewed, that’s quite a feat.
In the end, I don’t think The Last Jedi is anywhere near as bad as people think it is. Of the four Disney produced films, it’d come in at number 3 and would find itself around the middle if I were to rank all the films. The central story involving Luke, Rey and Kylo Ren is fantastic in my opinion, with top-notch acting and unexpected story beats that make the film unpredictable and original. Despite being a Jedi Master, someone who is to inspired hope, he is also only human and we get to see him at the lowest point in his life. Kylo Ren, despite coming off as less of a threat to the galaxy thanks to his characterization (and continued failures), he’s still a very interesting character as he comes into the villainous role. I do wish we were getting more of him though, as he’s likely going to perish in the upcoming Episode IX, as is mandated by trilogy conclusions. I feel he’s only just getting started and three films isn’t enough time with him. I’d be shocked-but quite happy – if he was to survive the next film. Daisy Ridley continues to showcase that she was born to act and her character, despite being hyped up as a legacy character, shows that greatness can come from nowhere-you don’t need great parents to be great yourself. Episode IX is one year away, and I for one can’t wait to see how this trilogy ends.
So what do you think of The Last Jedi? Do you still love it or does it rank at the bottom of the charts for you? Do you like it better or less since it came out a year ago? Curious as to your thoughts! If you like the One Year Later series, check out Thor Ragnarok and why not see our 10 Anti-Christmas Movies to get into the spirit. Ish.